*There's probably no new car on the market today more significant to its parent company than the new Jaguar XF. While the two-plus-two XK sport GT may be considered a success, the XF is the pendulum on which Jaguar's fortunes will swing. If the carmaker is to become profitable again, the XF is the car to make it so.

Replacing the long-running S-Type, the XF is completely new, conceived and built from the ground up as a 'thoroughly modern vehicle.' Design director Ian Callum is quick to point out that Jaguar is not a company which needs to be chained to its past, rather one which needs to forge into the future. Working within the constraints dictated by the spatial needs of a midsize passenger sedan, the design team worked closely with engineers to create a viable coupe profile. Their hard work paid off. Interestingly, the rake of the windshield and slope of the rear window are identical to those on the XK. "Clearly, something right is happening here," says Callum. Classic Jaguar design elements, like a strong shoulder line and twin-cluster headlamps are present, along with cues like the power vents behind the front wheels. And you'd have to be blind not to see a little Aston Martin in the taillights.

The attention to detail, however, is most evident inside the cabin. One of the car's design inspirations was a jet fighter cockpit and it's fairly evident in the finished product. Certain details might be considered gimmicky if they weren't so damn cool, like an ignition button that pulses red with a heartbeat cadence as soon as you get in (my personal favorite), or the way the JaguarDrive gear selector rises out of the center console and the air vents twist into position after start-up.

The phosphor blue interior lighting is a particularly cool feature, which both the design team and the engineers went to great lengths to preserve from the earliest concept studies. Switches and buttons on the dash and center console have been kept to a minimum through use of a touchscreen display, but those that are present have been grouped in clusters and surrounded by thin chrome bezels which turn a cool, luminous blue in the dark. Other details, like touch-sensitive overhead lights, stitched leather and brushed aluminum accents-even tiny Jaguar logos embossed on the vents-illustrate the amount of thought gone into this interior. Regarding comfort and atmosphere, the new Jaguar fits the bill of 'sporting luxury.'

And the driving experience follows suit. The car is remarkably poised and planted on the road, especially at high speeds and in long, sweeping bends. The cabin is virtually silent at speed, with wind noise negligible even into triple digits.

Six-cylinder and diesel variants will be available in Europe, but both North American XF models will be powered by the 4.2-liter V8, either a 300-hp naturally aspirated engine or a 420-hp supercharged version. The supercharged model feels slightly sharper in terms of both handling precision and throttle response, but there's little doubt that even the entry-level XF has hit its mark as a dynamic and extremely capable sport sedan.

The car is equipped with numerous driver aids, like JaguarDrive Control that offers different driving modes which interact with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, engine and gearbox to change engine mapping, transmission shifting and automatic brake interventions, depending on driving conditions and circumstances.

On the naturally aspirated car, JaguarDrive Control offers Normal and Winter modes, while supercharged cars receive Dynamic mode to allow for more purposeful driving. In Dynamic mode, the driver has the option of turning off the DSC entirely for sideways drift action. Standard DSC offers both normal and Trac DSC modes, the latter allowing more rear slip before its functions intervene. The XF is also the first Jaguar model to offer Understeer Control Logic, designed to restore front-wheel grip by decelerating through engine management and braking.

The transmission is worth noting. Although a true automatic, it's programmed with Jaguar Sequential Shift that allows manual gear selection through steering wheel-mounted paddles. Two drive modes are available, standard Drive and Sport, and the transmission is remarkably adaptive, its gear-changing strategy reacting to both road conditions and the way the car is driven.

One notable option is the toplevel audio system developed with premium audio outfit Bowers & Wilkins. The standard stereo system employs no less than eight separate speakers, while the B&W system ups the ante with 14 speakers flaunting Kevlar cones and aluminum tweeter domes, a remote amplifier pushing 440 watts, and Dolby Pro-Logic II surround sound. Predictably, it sounds incredible.

Two trim levels are available for the naturally aspirated model, Luxury and Premium Luxury, costing $49,975 and $55,975 respectively. The supercharged SV8 will set you back considerably more for a considerable boost in performance.

Here it is, the future of Jaguar. Nice ride, nice drive, nice car, but its biggest challenge will be re-establishing the Jaguar brand in the hearts and minds of the car-buying public. If the XF can accomplish that to even a small degree, the company will definitely be on its way into the black.

2008 Jaguar XF SV8

*Layout
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

*Engine
4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, supercharged and intercooled

*Transmission
Six-speed automatic

*Suspension
Unequal-length front wishbones, multi-link rear, CATS electronic adaptive damping

*Brakes
14-inch vented front rotors (f), 12.8-inch vented rotors (r)

*Dimensions
Length/Width/Height (in.):
195.3/80.8/57.5
Wheelbase: 114.5 in.
Curb Weight: 4,061 lb

*Performance
Peak Power: 420 hp @ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 408 lb-ft @ 6250 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)

*What we like:
Great balance between comfort and driving dynamics, nearly silent cabin at speed

*What we don't:
Just the steering wheel, it's diffi cult to grip at three and nine

Price Tag
$62,975 H

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